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The Fab Five of Winning Business Presentations

winning business presentations, presentation skills, presentation tipsHave you ever been to a presentation for your industry, possibly at a seminar that couldn’t hold your attention no matter how hard you listened?  Of course you have.  Did you feel guilty because you knew that the information was important to you, but you didn’t retain a thing anyway?  End the guilt.  Forgive yourself.  It wasn’t your fault, but that of a boring, stiff presenter who was supposed to hold your interest in the subject.  As a member of the audience your job is to be courteous to the speaker and show proper respect, but you can’t breathe life into a dead presentation.  It is incumbent upon the presenter to make his material interesting and fun for the audience.  Read on to learn the top five simple presentations skills tips for fabulous business presentations.

So why am I telling you this?  Because at some point in your career you will have to give that dreaded presentation to the board of directors, or speak to a group of associates about what you’re working on.  You’ve seen the dry, dull spectacles of speech before.  Make sure yours isn’t one of them.  When you stand before any group, take advantage of the opportunity to persuade them to your ideas.  You can only do that if you animate the material and make it appealing.

But Karl, I’m an accountant, my topic is inherently a cadaver.  Even if I put it on a roller coaster, it will still be dead.

Nonsense!  You can make any topic interesting.  Here are a few tips.

Your Audience

Remember, unless you’re a circus animal trainer, your audience will be comprised of people.  You’ve heard the saying, “He puts his pants on one leg at a time, just like me.”  Think of your audience as friends, not as nameless, faceless bureaucrats and managers who you have to impress.  Present ideas conversationally to them, like talking to an old buddy you haven’t seen in years.  Keep in mind what’s really important to them in the grand scheme of things:  their wives and husbands, children, where they’re going on the next vacation.  Picture them in their more important roles in life, like mothers, fathers, and grandparents.  It will provide some perspective as to who they are and help keep you from being intimidated.

Audio Visuals

Folks, be judicious in how you use audio-visuals.  I’m talking about Powerpoint, Corel Presentations and the like.  These are great gadgets that can genuinely augment a presentation.  They have fancy flyouts and transitions, and if your PC is powerful enough, many will support full motion video.  Just like a good hammer, though, presentation programs are just tools.  They have no value in and of themselves for a business presentation.  You are still the one who does the hammering, the presenting of ideas to business peers.  It’s amazing how many people I see presenting in business meetings, heck, even conferences, who want to dim the lights, shrink from the audience’s view, and read the slides verbatim.  Sometimes they don’t even bother to stand up!  If you’re one of these people who think you can get away with this—wake up!  You’re just using the AV technology as a crutch, and as everybody knows, you can’t win many races on crutches.  You need to take control, come prepared, and use the audio-visuals to emphasize points you make, or to show something visually that’s better explained with a picture.  You must still be the ringmaster of the event.

Technical Material

Many businesses today survive and thrive based on complex technology.  If you have to present technical, oftentimes dry material, here are two things to keep in mind.  First, break complex ideas down into small, digestible morsels when introducing them to your audience.  In the dissemination of ideas, feed your audience with an eyedropper, not a fire hose.  You can teach a person brain surgery if you do it one step at a time.  Second, don’t overestimate the knowledge of your audience.  Speak on a tenth grade level and define all esoteric terms and acronyms.  When in doubt—explain it like you’re helping mom understand the concept.  Peer pressure plays a big part in business presentations, so I bet I won’t have to do much convincing to tell you that many people will not raise a hand and ask a question when they don’t understand something you’ve said, less they be embarrassed.  It’s better to risk being too simplistic and have everybody get it than to lose people with technical jargon and have them disconnect from what you’re saying.


Here’s a news flash for you–people in business like to smile too.  I know it sounds ridiculous, but you can’t go wrong by making your audience laugh.  I don’t mean by telling sappy jokes.  What I’m talking about is using funny stories that happened to you, anecdotes from your industry, and dynamics in your presentation.  I saw former presidential press secretary Marlin Fitzwater (the white marlin) speak at a banquet years ago.  Serious guy, right?  The reason it is memorable is that old Marlin seemed to have the goal of not going twenty seconds without making us laugh.  Follow his lead and don’t be afraid to smile and take a chance with a appropriate humor.  People remember stories, analogies, and laughs.  It brings ideas home with comparisons that they will find relevant to their lives.  It’s much harder to remember or be influenced by a string of facts and data tables.


The reason that many people tune out during business presentations is that the speaker has done something to lose them and doesn’t get back on track to reign the audience in.  You need to have a clear beginning, middle, and end of your presentation.  It’s cliché but true—tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you’ve told them.  Make sure that your objective is clearly stated in a sentence so they can understand where you’re going, right from the start.  In essence, “Today I’m going to tell you …” and then say whatever it is.

Want to be even better?  Begin with a prepared hook, an attention getter that arouses interest and sets up the problem.  An easy way to do this is to ask a pain-inducing question, like “Do you want to see revenues fall for a third consecutive quarter?”  This gets people to the edge of their seats.  Your body, or middle, is where you present your data to support whatever position you’re taking.  Never make an unsupported assertion.  Back it up with data.  Finally, the end of your presentation restates your main point, position, or thesis.  Ask for appropriate action on the part of your colleagues, whether it is to fund a new project or adjust the employee bonus plan.

Use these methods, buy into these ideas, and your big presentation will flow more like vintage wine than lava from a volcano.  You’ll persuade the audience to your way of thinking, or at least they’ll hear what you want to tell them.  People will leave the room invigorated and ready to take action.  Best of all, you will know you’ve done all that is possible to communicate your ideas.  If people don’t support them now, you probably need to work on your ideas.

So Blog Reader O-Mine, tell me about your best ways to liven up your business presentations below.

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